July 2014 - Red Headed Step Children

But what about all the vintage and rare drums that have been modified with extra holes, unoriginal parts etc.? What about those red headed bastard stepchildren?

It is my theory that they will become more and more desirable as the herd is thinned over the coming decades. What made me realize this was one particular seller at the Chicago Drum Show who asked me if there were going to be a lot of “hipsters” at my Nashville Drum Show. He said that in Austin, where there are hundreds and hundreds of working drummers in that busy music scene, they are buying “player" vintage kits and snares, not the collector level drums.  They are buying them for the sound, not the collectability. It made me realize just how much the vintage drum world has grown and how the less than perfect old drums need to be preserved too.

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X Still Marks The Spot

Maker: Henry EiseleCirca: 1890’s-early 1900’s Dimensions: 12”(h) x 16”(dia.)

One day, back in the day, while attending my good friend Jack Lawton’s PA Vintage Drum Show in Sunbury, I first met another good friend and fellow collector, Jack Ricciutti. Among the many wonderful vintage drums Jack had brought to the show was an incredible 1926, 4” x 14” Leedy Elite snare drum. Not only was this drum beautifully engraved and trimmed in Art Gold, it also sounded great. Not having enough pocket cash with me that day to make the deal, I took Jack’s phone number and some notes on the drum. I also learned that Jack had a couple Slingerland Radio King WMP snare drums at his home in New Jersey.

Back home I started looking into Leedy Elites and Radio Kings, making a few phone calls to people in the know and decided the Leedy would be a wise investment to my collection. A few months later I made the call to Jack and we agreed to meet at his home in a week and do the deal on the Leedy.

At Jacks home we made our way to the studio where there were drums everywhere. He soon presented me with the drum I had come for and we eventually started talking about the Radio Kings he had mentioned back at the drum show. They were from the late 1930s and early 40s and in great condition. We soon made a deal on them and I happily added them to my treasure trove. As I continued to examine my two new and unexpected finds, I hadn’t noticed that Jack had left the room. When he returned, he placed on the floor at my feet an old rope tension drum. During our prior conversations, I had mentioned that I was an old drum corps kid from DCA and DCI. What Jack had not only was a very cool old rope drum, but one that was identified from the artwork on the shell as the “Garfield Corps.” Being a former DCI member, that name rang home with me.

I decided that this extra drum should also come home with me and we settled on a price. Jack sent me on my way home with a nice bottle of wine and a handshake that would be repeated often. The trip back home was filled with the satisfaction that only a car load of new vintage drums can bring.

While the Leedy and Slingerland drums were an incredible score, I was entirely consumed with the intrigue of what I might uncover on the “Garfield Corps” drum, which today is another “X” in the hunt for my next perfect drum.

Since this rope drum was previously restored by Jack Lawton, there was nothing to do but research and enjoy it. The paper maker’s label inside the drum identifies Henry Eisele of New York City as the maker. Eisele is listed as being established as a drum maker as early as 1862. He eventually became the successor to famed drum maker, William Sempf, who he worked with and perfected his trade. Eisele eventually took over Sempf’s business when he retired in the mid 1880s. The label reads: “Henry Eisele / Successor to Wm. Sempf / Manufacturer of / Bass and Snare Drums / 209 and 211 Grand Street, New York / N.B. – Drum Heads, Sticks, Cords, etc. / Constantly on Hand.” Eisele maintained this address listing from the mid-1880’s until the early 1900’s.

Built during a time of great innovation, this drum sports many of the modern features that make it one of the top-of-the-line rope tension models of its day. This includes the 10 metal-reinforced “break-away” style leather ears, sash rope, metal snare butt, and nickel plated metal rope hooks. The snare adjuster is the screw-type version that came to the market during the Civil War period. This adjuster type has the adjusting screw receiver mounted on the bottom counter-hoop. This always seems to put too much pressure on that hoop when tightening up the snare tension, forcing it away from the snare head. The bottom counter hoop, which in this case has fairly deep snare gates, is often too thin or weak and tends to negate the ability of that hoop to provide adequate pressure or tension on the snare head.

Eisele used an early form of plastic for the grommet of the vent hole. There were several advances in plastic technology available at this time and may help narrow down the date of manufacture. The first plastic was invented in 1862 and was known as Parkesine. Celluloid quickly followed in 1868. My first guess as to the identity of the material used for this grommet would be Bakelite, which was invented in 1897. This would help date this drum more accurately to 1897-1909. 1909 was also the last year Henry Eisele used that exact address.

The stained and varnished shell is made of a single ply of maple as are the varnished counter hoops which are all in very good shape. Placed in the center of the shell is an eagle and flag design that Eisele used quite often during this era. Placed directly on the eagle is a capital letter “B.” This is presumably for Bergen County, NJ. Also painted in large gold letters top and bottom is “GARFIELD CORPS.” This drum was probably not a military drum but rather part of a civilian drum corps or possibly a band. The exact origin still remains a mystery.

The most famous and longest running of the Garfield marching units was formed in 1934 as the Holy Name Cadets, a Catholic youth group drum and bugle corps. They eventually became known as the Garfield Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps. Later incarnations where known as the Cadets of Bergen County, The Cadets of Garfield, and finally just The Cadets. Despite the name changes, they have become one of the longest running and most successful drum corps in the world with ten DCI World Championships. This drum, no doubt, is somewhat of an ancestor to this most famous of drum corps.

In this case, the “X,” or the unknown factor in my trip to New Jersey, turned out to be a “ten.” Not only did I find that special unexpected drum, I made a friend for life who also shares a mutual love for the percussive arts. I was also reminded that “X” sometimes still does mark the spot for treasure, as the Garfield drum not only reconnected me with my drum corps past, but also rekindled of my love affair with rope tension drums and the history that surrounds them.

From Lancaster County, PA…..Thoughts from the Shop.

-Brian Hill